President Trump can’t be blamed for Charles Manson’s crimes or death, so Newsweek took a new tack, writing an article that said Manson lured his supporters through the same techniques the president uses to attract his.
Manson, who died Monday morning in prison in California, where he has been since 1969 for orchestrating the brutal deaths of actress Sharon Tate and six other people, convinced followers such as a former Sunday school teacher, a church choir singer and a one-time homecoming princess to carry out his plans.
“According to psychoanalyst Mark Smaller, past president of the American Psychoanalytic Association, part of Manson’s power lay in the type of language he used,” Newsweek’s Melissa Matthews wrote.
“Notably, Manson was able to speak in a way that engaged those who felt marginalized or alienated. ‘A charismatic leader knows how to speak to people in a way that will emotionally engage those people,’ Smaller told Newsweek.”
Cult followers like those in the Manson family “are so seduced by feelings of acceptance and understanding that they accept their leaders’ ideologies regardless of how destructive or dangerous they may be.”
Which brings us to Trump supporters.
Matthews is careful to point out that Smaller is not saying Trump is a whole lot like Manson or that their followers share beliefs or characteristics. It’s more that they are just as unthinking and vulnerable and easily led by their enigmatic heroes as Manson family members or gang leaders, who he says use the same techniques to recruit new members.
“Our current president speaks in an emotional or affective way to large numbers of people in our country, who feel a kind of alienation or disconnection from the government,” Smaller told Newsweek. “They feel very responded to and become his political base. They can feel like somebody has their back.”
Smaller admitted he has no way of knowing what Manson was telling his supporters back in the late-1960s, but he suspects some themes are similar to Trump’s.
Cult leaders, Matthews said, “may say things like, ‘Your parents don’t really care about you. Your community doesn’t care about you. The government doesn’t really care about you, but I’m going to not only care about you, I’m going to take care of you. I understand how angry, neglected and hurt you feel.”
They’re both manipulators, Matthews said. They know how to empathize and convert empathy to manipulation, and it is not good for their fellow humans.
“There’s a very distorted dark side of empathy,” Matthews quotes Carrie Barron, a psychiatrist at Columbia University as saying. “You can use empathy to get inside another person and manipulate. You know the inner workings of another person. You’re able to perceive that without thinking about it.”
And it’s not just language but a combination of factors, and “we all need to be cautious and alert in order not to get swept up in these radical personalities.”
And today, socioeconomic factors and social media have led to increased feelings of discontent.
“I’ve never worried as much about the Donald Trumps in the world as I worry about the large amount of people in our country who feel alienated and disconnected and looking to follow somebody,” Matthews quotes Smaller as saying.
The timing of this criticism is odd. The last president, Barack Obama, produced little in the way of legislative victories or direction for the country in his eight years, other than to impose a failed health care system and counterproductive regulations on banking that rewarded his Wall Street donors after the financial crisis of 2008.
Both of those bills passed in the two years in which Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the White House, and they led to historic losses in both houses of Congress as well as state capitals across the country.
He rose to fame on the strength of a dynamic speech but almost devoid of substance speech he gave to the Democratic National Convention in 1984. He gave another such address a few months later, which launched him on his way to his party’s nomination and two terms as president.
The bulk of his following were people of color who felt disconnected from their families, schools and communities and were vulnerable to sweet talk from a substance-less leader.
But it is Trump who follows the Manson model and lures the unwitting into the unacceptable.